Culturally sensitive

There’s such a thing as being too “culturally sensitive”

Shawn Shirazi is angry about cultural relativism and the growing unwillingness of people here to criticize radical Islam for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic.

Born in Iran, Shirazi immigrated to Vancouver where he became a founding member of Cirque de So Gay, an activist group of gay and transgender Middle Eastern men. For several years, the group marched in the Pride Parade and even won an award for their originality. But this year, its application was rejected as “culturally insensitive.”

The rejection is a microcosm of what Shirazi calls “hypocrisy” when it comes to global human rights, but what others argue is showing respect for other cultures and religious traditions.

Its application described it as “casting off the shroud of oppression to unveil the Persian Princess beneath … The Islamic attire is more than just a piece of black fabric. It’s a tool used by governments to impose absolute control and authority over their citizens and even tourists.”

The intent was to encourage dialogue about oppression and individual freedom, “so people can express themselves as they choose, without threat of being flogged, stoned or beheaded.”

But the organizers didn’t want to encourage that particular dialogue.

Vancouver Pride Society’s co-executive director Andrea Arnot said in an interview that organizers thought Cirque de So Gay made light of a nuanced issue.

“Many women choose to wear burkas. It’s part of their identity, their religion and their culture,” she said. “Of course, there are places where it’s enforced.”

Arnot says organizers found its proposal “quite shocking.”

“When I asked other people who are from that cultural or religious background, they said it was offensive,” she said. “I definitely wanted to be sensitive to what is happening in our communities right now.”

Yet, what Cirque de So Gay proposed was exactly what it did at the 2011 Vancouver Pride Parade — dancers threw off their body and face coverings to reveal very little underneath.

You know…if the organizers asked people from the conservative Christian “communities” what they thought of Pride, they would say it was offensive too. If they asked very conservative people of any kind they would say it was offensive. Lesbian and gay rights shouldn’t be contingent on approval by people in very conservative “communities” because it won’t be forthcoming. That’s kind of a given, you know? Editors of lefty magazines don’t seek approval from conservatives either, and vice versa. People differ. If you water down Pride parades until they appeal to absolutely everyone, what will you have?

Cloaked within the niqab debate, hidden by notions of cultural relativism, multiculturalism and accommodation is the more serious question.

What exactly are Canadians doing within all communities both here and abroad to promote, empower and enhance women’s rights so that women can make choices about everything from what they will wear to what they will do with their lives?

Iranian exile and activist Alinejad frequently talks about being silenced.

“It doesn’t matter where I am whenever I want to talk about women’s rights, there are a lot of people saying ‘Shhh, not now here in the West,’” she said recently.

“‘Shhh. Islamophobia. Donald Trump is around.’ ‘Shhh. This is not the right time now to talk about extremism and the restrictive laws, the Sharia laws.’”

In their small way, that silencing is what Shirazi and his group, who have their own experiences with oppression, thought they could highlight.

But what they were told was ‘Shhh. Not here. Not now. We don’t want to fuel Islamaphobia.’

Maryam on Facebook:

Shawn Shirazi and his group Cirque de So Gay were denied entry to the Pride Parade by the Victoria Pride Society because their float of scantily clad bodies unveiled under chadors was deemed to be ‘not culturally sensitive.’ They had done something similar in 2011 but it seems Iranian culture has changed since then… Of course that is absurd.

Everyone knows the chador was imposed by brute force in Iran and for that matter in many places. But throw enough acid in women’s faces and beat unveiled women enough or imprison them over decades as has been done in Iran and you can always find collaborators like those at Victoria Pride saying it’s our culture, shut up and enjoy the oppression.

Sure some women like wearing it just as some men willingly go to gay conversion sessions and exorcisms but you don’t stop defending gay or women’s rights because some have bought into the religious-Right’s narrative and culture.

Don’t forget culture isn’t homogenous. For every person defending FGM, the veil, therapies for ‘curing’ LGBT, there are plenty of people opposing them and the Iranian regime’s ‘culture’ imposed by brute force.

Good thing the Victoria Pride Society wasn’t around to tell the suffragettes demanding women’s right to vote or the black civil rights activists entering white only diners to end segregation to shut up and go home and be more ‘culturally sensitive’. If they were around in the 1970s even, they could have told those organising Pride Vancouver to leave homophobia alone so they can avoid being culturally insensitive… Where would any of us be if we listened to those more concerned with maintaining the status quo than changing things for the better.

Yes I know racism exists. We all live it as we do sexism and homophobia and xenophobia but what does that have to do with our being able to challenge the Iranian regime, the veil, misogyny, homophobia…

Victoria Pride has done the Iranian regime proud. It had a lot of explaining and apologising to do including making sure Cirque de So Gay is there next year.

Damn right.

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